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New Jersey is taking over public records, critics say, tightening access to documents

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law Wednesday regulating access to the state’s public records, which critics say is likely to make it more difficult for the public and media to gain access to some documents.

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law Wednesday regulating access to the state’s public records, which critics say is likely to make it more difficult for the public and media to gain access to some documents.

Murphy, a Democrat, said he recognized the disappointment of social justice, labor and other groups that vociferously objected to the bill.

“If I believed this bill would in any way enable corruption, I would veto it without hesitation,” Murphy said. “After a thorough examination of the provisions of the bill, I am satisfied that, taken as a whole, the changes are relatively modest.”

The legislation amends the state’s Open Public Records Act, which the public and journalists regularly use to obtain state and local government documents, including budgets, agency receipts, public salaries, correspondence and other information that is not always easy to retrieve is.

The bill’s sponsors say they support transparency and want to help beleaguered clerks who can’t always handle a wave of requests, sometimes driven by commercial interests. Opponents of the bill argued that the measure will make it harder to obtain documents and comes at a time when American confidence in institutions is waning. In a May 2023 survey by AP-NORC and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, a majority of respondents said news stories that cover the facts facing the country or provide in-depth background and analysis are extremely or very helpful in helping understand issues that are important to them. .

One provision in the legislation allows officials to charge commercial interests who can charge up to twice the cost of producing documents. In another language, agencies may sue applicants they accuse of interrupting the “function of government.” The new law also ends the obligation for cities to pay attorneys’ fees in lawsuits they lose because of records requests.

The latter provision could make it prohibitively expensive for members of the public and news reporters to challenge local and state governments in court, according to the bill’s opponents, including civil rights groups, the state’s press association and dozens of others who spoke about it during committee hearings testified. year.

The Associated Press signed a letter from the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists calling on politicians to reject the legislation.

The Associated Press

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